Buchanan Field Planners Borrow More Time

Contra Costa supervisors Tuesday refueled a plan to close Buchanan Field by giving a development group until September to find a replacement for the Concord airport.

The controversial idea to create a mixed-use development on the site crashes, however, if Buchanan Field Partners fails to come up with an alternative airport property in the county.

The board was scheduled to evaluate the 6,000-home proposal this week, but the builders asked for an extension after problems arose with the two sites they were eyeing for alternative airports.

The board voted 4-0 to grant the extra time. Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay was absent.

"We very much appreciate it (the extension)," said Daniel Coleman, a vice president of Shapell Industries, after the meeting. "We've been placing all our emphasis on the lovely community we're creating. Now, we can concentrate on finding another site (for the airport)."

The county has nothing to lose by keeping the development dream alive, said Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, who first proposed closing the airport in 2003. Homes on the site, which is near BART and the intersection of Interstate 680 and Highway 4, could address the region's housing goals without creating sprawl.

"The proposal is really quite exciting," he said.

The development consortium, comprised of Shapell, Lennar Communities and Garaventa Enterprises, must win federal approval for a Central Contra Costa airport equal to or better than Buchanan before touching any existing runways.

A Federal Aviation Administration official didn't offer the board any encouragement Tuesday, noting that closing Buchanan would have a "severe impact" on regional air travel. Interviewed later, agency supervisor Joe Rodriguez called chances of moving the airport "extremely remote."

"There's no support in Washington or in any of our other offices to close the existing facility," he said..

The partners had proposed relocating the 495-acre facility to the ACME landfill or the Tesoro Golden Eagle refinery property, both near Martinez. Neither site appears feasible so the group is now looking at two other, unspecified locations, Coleman said.

Public hearings on the issue have generated angry comments from community groups and pilots who want the board to leave Buchanan alone. Tuesday was no exception.

Some opponents questioned whether the partners are picking up all evaluation expenses as promised. The county is billing the group for up to $100,000 of costs associated with studying its proposal.

"As taxpayers, how are we protected?" asked Richard Roberts, president of the Mount Diablo Pilots Association. "Are we just throwing good money after bad?"

Community Development Director Dennis Barry told the board he is confident the partners will pay.

Other critics focused on the effect the uncertainty is having on companies doing business at Buchanan.

"Time is of the essence here," said David Evans, a member of The Airport Coalition, a business group. "A six-month extension is just extending the damage for businesses at the airport."